The only thing that can be worse than hearing that your toddler is being bullied is being faced with the question of having a toddler bully and what to do when your toddler is a bully. Every parent likes to think that their offspring is the sweetest little angel that was ever born, but the reality is that some parents have to face up to the fact that their little angel is actually a little monster who bullies other children.
Finding out that your child is a bully is never nice, and trying to figure out what to do about your toddler bully can be a daunting task. The situation needs to be handled as soon as possible after it comes to light, and needs to be handled carefully and with sensitivity and in the correct manner or it could backfire and create more problems further down the line.
Most important of all is to have the correct attitude about the toddler that is hitting another, and part of that is understanding the mind and actions of your toddler. You should not panic and not feel too bad if your toddler has started to hit, as a toddler of two or three years of age does not fully understand emotions, and therefore cannot technically be a bully. At that age, many toddlers do not know how else to express themselves, so they use the only tools that are available to them; being pushy, biting, demanding and overly defiant.
At that age they are still testing out the waters, so to speak, and the only way to do this is to test cause and effect; “If I do this, what will happen?” It is important that you understand this, find out what to do about your toddler bully, and effectively deal with the problem in a way that will stop them from continuing the actions of hitting or biting, or it may result in them becoming a real bully when they get older.
Understanding The Reasons Some Toddlers Bully Others
As mentioned earlier in this article, it is really important that you understand the reasons why your child is a toddler bully and why the bullying may be happening in order to know what to do when your toddler is a bully, and handle it appropriately.
Some of the reasons your toddler bully is hitting, pushing or biting could be because:
- Communication – most toddlers do not yet have good communication skills, and do not know how to express all of the emotions that they are beginning to feel at this stage, such as excitement, frustration, or anger. Sometimes these emotions are expressed by what is looked upon by others as bullying or aggressive behavior, but is in reality just the little one trying to find a way to express emotions.
- Attempts to Initiate Play – your toddler may just want to play with the other child, but once again not having the communication skills to get this across, they may resort to other antics.
- Attention Seeking – the one thing that toddlers seem to have worked out is that the time that they generally receive the most attention is when they act out and do something naughty, so the “bullying” may just be a form of seeking attention from their peers or the adults in the vicinity.
- Experimenting – at this age, a toddler will push the boundaries and will act out to experiment with cause and effect; it is the only way they learn. This is not only what the adult will do, but also what the other toddler will do, e.g. will they hit back, laugh or cry.
Only once you understand all of the factors that go into the so-called toddler bully at this age, can you decide what to do when your toddler is a bully. Whilst we understand that all families are different, as are the family dynamics, and parents are also different individuals who react differently to various situations, there are a few things that you definitely do not want to do, as they are virtually guaranteed to backfire and make the situation far worse.
Tips On What To Do When Your Toddler Is A Bully
The following are some tips that every parent can easily follow when looking for help as to what to do when your toddler is a bully. They are tried and tested methods for dealing with a toddler bully and will definitely work if you apply the methods correctly.
Intervene; Do Not Overreact
What to do when your toddler is a bully? If you have a toddler bully, you need to intervene immediately, but do not overreact. Remembering that some toddlers act up because they are looking for attention, the worst thing that you can do when finding out that your toddler is a bully would be to yell, spank, or lecture them. If they are hitting or biting to seek attention, yelling or spanking them is not only counter-productive, but may also reinforce their behavior.
Talk To Your Child
Speak to your toddler in a non-threatening manner, and ask them why they did what they did; you many find that they felt that it was the only way to resolve the fact that the other child would not give them a chance to play on the swing or with the ball, or whatever. Explain that bullying is not the way to resolve the problem; that they need to treat others in the same way that they want to be treated. Explain that kicking, punching, biting, shoving etc. is not the right way to behave and that it hurts the other person, and that it also hurts your feelings when he or she does that. If that was the reason, then you can help by making sure that all the children get equal turns to play with or on said object, which will teach them how to share.
Apologies And Taking Responsibility
Although it will not always be possible, it is important that you try to get your child to look at any wound there may be, so that they can see the consequences of their actions, and to apologize to the other child for their behavior. They may not want to apologize, and if this is so, do not force them to, although you could suggest that they help you to write an apology letter.
If talking does not help change the toddler bully behavior and you are not sure what to do because they continue with the bullying behavior, then it is time for something harsher, such as time-out. Although some parents may not believe in this method, it works well, as it is a way to quickly stop the behavior and is the quickest way to stop attention-seeking behavior, as it will remove the child, at least temporarily, from all sources of attention. Speak directly and calmly to your child and tell them that they need to calm down, and that you are putting them in time-out for a few minutes to do just that.
If you do not already have a time-out area in your home, then create one by finding a spot which is away from where people are and also away from other distractions, and you can either place the toddler there on the floor or on a small stool or chair. Tell your toddler that it is wrong to hit, and that they are going to sit in time-out for a period of about 5 minutes; if they leave the time-out area place them straight back there and start timing again.
Help Your Toddler Bully To Calm Down
Once the five minutes is up, go and fetch them, explain again that hitting, biting, scratching etcetera is not right, give them some love and ask for an apology. Toddlers can get just as upset as adults do when they lose control, so it is important that you talk calmly to them and comfort them and tell them that you know that they are also upset that they made someone else feel bad or hurt someone else. Explaining this to a toddler will help them to understand their emotions and learn to label them.
Replace The Negative Action With A Positive One
When you are at your wit’s end trying to think what to do about a toddler bully, it is difficult to try to think what to do. One of the best ways to stop bullying is to head it off at the pass. If you see that your child is about to or has just hit another, tell them that we don’t hit our friends, we love them, and give them hugs, then encourage your toddler to give the other one a hug. If your child is bullying to seek attention this may not work. Always make sure that you praise and encourage your toddler, as positive reinforcement when they do something good will go a long way towards replacing the negative behavior to attract attention when they realize that being good also gets attention, and a better kind of attention at that.
Redirecting your toddler bully’s attention from bullying behavior is one of the most successful and effective ways of what to do when your toddler is a bully. Redirection is about getting to the toddler before the first punch is thrown or before their teeth sink in or the push happens. It is something that you can do when you see that your toddler is about to engage in bullying behavior, and is done by redirecting their attention. Point out another toy that you think they may like to play with, or verbally express what you think they may be feeling, such as “you’re mad because you want the car that Brian has, but this is also a nice car.” This will teach them what emotion they are feeling and another way to handle it, and can diffuse the situation very quickly.
Teaching Problem-solving Skills
One of the best pieces of advice I have on what to do when your toddler is a bully, is to start teaching the toddler bully problem-solving skills. Make a game out of it and pretend to be another child who want to take or has taken their favorite toy; teach him or her that they must not bully but ask to have the toy nicely and that if the other toddler does not want to give it then they should ask an adult for help. Do this over and over until they get the message.
Sometimes, no matter how much advice you have followed on what to do when your toddler is a bully, nothing seems to help; not talking to your toddler bully or putting them in time-out, loving them, or any other method, and that is when it is time that your toddler learns that there are consequences to their behavior. At this stage you need to tell them that have explained that bullying is not acceptable, and have given them enough chances to change their behavior, but as they have not, there will be consequences. Taking their television privileges or a favorite toy away for a week will teach them that they crossed the line, and that if they continue to make bad choices they will have to suffer for them.
Oftentimes the bullying behavior of a toddler is just a natural part of them growing up and their social development and no need for you to get alarmed. If, however, the behavior continues even when you have tried various means of dealing with it, then your child may well be a bully and have some or other problem that needs to be attended to. This could happen if there have been big changes around the house, you have recently moved, or the toddler is an adoptee who previously suffered neglect or was abused.
If you have tried all of the above, nothing has helped, and you are really stuck as to what to do when your toddler is a bully, examine your home-life to see if there have been any changes that may be causing the toddler bully behavior, speak to the child’s teacher, or consult their paediatrician for insight and advice.